Tracing the footsteps of Saint-Hilaire

 Tracing the footsteps of Saint-Hilaire

Botanists note a loss of biodiversity, but preserved areas as well, as they retrace an 1822 expedition

CARLOS FIORAVANTI | ED. 234 | AUGUST 2015

in Bananal

© ILLUSTRATION: PINDAMONHANGABA, C.1827, JEAN-BAPTISTE DEBRET | PHOTO: EDUARDO CESAR

St. H

 The marks of time: at left, forests and mountains of Pindamonhangaba in 1827. Above, eucalyptus trees and an eroded hill on the outskirts of Bananal in 2015

“The region is becoming increasingly mountainous. The road is flanked by very dense virgin forest; in some places it is becoming quite rough and difficult to negotiate” – Saint-Hilaire, April 25, 1822

Vilmar da Silva, a businessman from the Brazilian city of Bananal, found it strange when he spotted from his car a fiftyish gray-haired man who looked like a foreigner. The man had climbed up a steep bank and was holding onto a shrub at the entrance to Silva’s small farm on Tropeiros Highway, the old Rio-São Paulo road. But the tension soon dissolved. Marc Pignal, a French botanist from the National Museum of Natural History in Paris, had only climbed up the bank to collect a specimen from a plant that had caught his attention. It was nine o’clock on the morning of June 9, 2015, the first day of an expedition to trace the São Paulo portion of a trip that French naturalist Auguste de Saint-Hilaire made to the area in March and April of 1822. Read more.